In this post, Sritama Chatterjee reflects on the eleven contributions in the series on water pedagogies. At the end, Chatterjee also reflects on the challenges, opportunities, and critical role of editorial labour in academia.
As a graduate student at Jadavpur University Kolkata, I visited East Kolkata Wetlands (EKW), a Ramsar site and wetland ecosystem accompanied by Dr. Nilanjana Deb, our guide Dhruba Dasgupta, and my colleagues at the GIAN Environmental Humanities Course.1 EKW is responsible for providing fresh vegetables and fish at a relatively low cost to urban dwellers. We glimpsed how the wetland sustains fishing and farming. Our wonderful guide Dhruba Dasgupta walked us through the area, giving us an understanding of how the wet and “wasted” landscape are crucial for the survival of Kolkata.
An activist workshop in Pittsburgh organized by the “Our Water, Our River” campaign caught my attention. The goal of the workshop was to provide training to community members so that they could effectively make demands to protect water as a public good in the Pittsburgh area. This came in the wake of reports of high lead content in the city’s water and news that the task of daily maintenance of water supply was assigned to a private corporation.
At the workshop, I noticed that many community members were residents of Hill District, a group of historically African-American neighbourhoods and one of the places most affected by the increased lead concentration in the city.
In a workshop at the University of Pittsburgh, undergraduate and graduate students wrote haikus and poetry, and experimented with watercolours to understand how water can be an active collaborator in our creative work. The workshop organized by Dr. Shalini Puri and facilitated by artist Dr. Allison Rowe and poet-geographer Dr. Erin Magrane remains for me an example of what playfulness can bring to water pedagogy.
I start with these events because they represent to me not only three distinctive aspects of water pedagogy but also a reflection of who takes the lead in reimagining just water futures in the academy and beyond. As a scholar and activist, I have learned much from urban water pedagogy, the leadership of Black community members, and the importance of literary and artistic narratives to mobilize for water justice. These experiences have taught me that the possibilities of imagining water futures are endless.
My own experience with water pedagogies has been from such varied spaces and fields, and therefore it was important for me to put together a series of articles that paid attention to the nuances of race, gender, and place-based approaches to the study of water.
Why do we need a series of essays dedicated to water pedagogy?
According to the recent Sustainable Development Group report by Intergovernmental Panel Climate on Change (IPCC), “Currently, roughly half of the world’s ~8 billion people are estimated to experience severe water scarcity for at least some part of the year due to climatic and non-climatic factors… Since the 1970s, 44% of all disaster events have been flood-related.”2 Scarcity and the impact of water-related disasters need to be historicized, and they serve as an index to understand the inequity that exacerbates these events To understand the consequences of this inequity and how we hold policy-makers and leaders accountable, it is critical that we cultivate an understanding of water that is grounded in frameworks of justice, resistance, and sites where water acts as a collaborator in our work. Therefore, this series on “Water Pedagogies from the Academy and Beyond” brought together graduate students, faculty, postdoctoral fellows, artists, activists, and independent scholars from three continents to reflect on how water can shape our pedagogies of the future and our dreams of another world.
This series builds on a body of pedagogical scholarship in the environmental humanities that ranges from postcolonial approaches to teaching environmental literature and media to how narratives can be mobilized for teaching about climate change in the classroom.3 This scholarship focuses on issues ranging from queer feminisms, disability, and place-based approaches to environmental justice movements, topics that are all important in their own right. This eleven-part series focuses exclusively on water pedagogies and their connection with environmental justice. Some of the questions that animate the series include: What does it mean to teach with water in an era of climate change? How do we teach with water beyond the frames of crisis or conflict over resources? How do we approach water in our pedagogies of transformative justice? What modes of water pedagogies are in practice beyond the academy? How do we build our curriculum for undergraduate and graduate training that caters to the importance of water in our history and our contemporary worlds?
Though unintended, our contributors seemed to be in conversation with one another through themes, methods, and genres. Ramya Swayamprakash and Saad Quasem reflect on the practice of noticing, pausing, and observing riverine waterscapes and thinking with canoes, to inspire students to ask how place-based water pedagogies can change their perceptions about their campus and cartography. What makes Swayamprakash and Quasem’s work unique is that they are responding to a changed perception of the environment and place. Quasem taught a course offered at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic was raging all over the world with no end in sight. It therefore required an adaptation of the ethical engagement with place and water in the classroom.
As students who have been trained in the Indian educational system, Debika Banerji and Shivika Aggarwal advocate the importance of humanistic and literature-based approaches to teaching about water in Geography and Engineering classrooms, especially when the curriculum happens to be oriented to numbers with no holistic understanding of why a problem exists in the first place. To ensure that humanistic water pedagogy is a part of what students learn in the classroom, a re-imagination of the undergraduate and graduate curriculum in India with an emphasis on narrative and history is the first step.
Any curriculum committed to thinking about the historical and water injustice issues should pay attention to the work done by activists and museum curators. Caitlin Schroering pedagogy of incorporating films in her classroom discussion on water movements in Brazil and Pittsburgh invites us to think about the false binary between the activist and the scholar and suggest possible ways to bridge the gap. Such activism also takes the form of curation, a focus of Kimberly Fung’s essay on imagining ethical models of curation in the aftermath of pollution in Japan. The pedagogical emphasis on visual arts and the significance of Indigenous pedagogies in understanding kinship with water is a lingering theme in Pasha Clothier’s work on Indigenous communities around the world have been on the frontlines of the fight against climate injustice by which they have also been disproportionately affected. So, as Clothier argues unless we centre Indigenous knowledge making and reimagine our relationship with the water around us, the fight for justice will be more difficult.
The kinship with water also calls for pedagogies in which water is not only the object of pedagogical inquiry but the teacher as well as Tracey Benson’s work on the “onewater” demonstrates. ndeed, the manifestation of water in different forms and ways in our everyday lives makes Tanya Matthan consider the utility of water as an everydayconcept and what it can teach us about infrastructure, joy, and hope. I am inspired by Oscar Ulloa-Calzada’s provocation about community resistance in Oaxaca as a form of pedagogy itself. Such frameworks are helpful when, as educators in the classroom and beyond, we negotiate and interact with students who are sad about the state of climate affairs. How does one acknowledge the ongoing climate violence and yet work towards a just water future? Benson and Matthan’s articles have insights that might help educators think through this tension in our work of teaching. How do we keep possibilities of hope open in our students?
One of the ways in which recognition of climate violence starts is with the question: Who gets excluded from conversations about water in climate justice? How does one address the exclusion and find ways to redress such harm? Ambika Tenneti’s takes up the case of an environmental non-profit in Canada and how they have been developing a pedagogy for their community walks sensitive to racial justice, especially when environmental non-profits in Canada have a long history of not considering the perspective of racial minorities.
Editorial Process and Practices
As the editor of the series, when I put out the call for contributors, the response was overwhelming. Out of almost twenty-nine abstracts, we published eleven that not only provided practical suggestions but also spoke to a larger conceptual issue pertaining to the teaching of water pedagogies. A word about the process of editing the articles. Once the task of curating the eleven articles was done, each of the articles went through at least two to three rounds of rigorous review and editing. One of the reasons, I mention the process of editing the articles is because publishing scholarship that is geared toward a public audience is a lot of labour that the academy often does not recognize because the “anonymous peer-reviewed journal article or monograph” still remains the measure of intellectual currency. To be clear, I think that the “anonymous peer-review” has its merits, but when we work in a field such as environmental humanities, it is important that we think carefully about how the work that we do can have a transformative material impact on the communities that we inhabit, in the spaces that we occupy, in the relationships we build, and on policy-makers. Therefore, it is necessary that we make visible the editorial labour that we do to enable public scholarship.
Making editorial labour visible raises the question of accountability. In the last ten years, there has been a recent spate of digital publications geared toward a public audience in environmental humanities and I have been fortunate to be a small part of these publications through my role as a writer.4 I have seen editorial practices that amplify the voices and vision of the contributors and practices that do the opposite. As an editor for this series, I built on this experience of mine as a writer to think about editorial labour carefully. In addition to written commentary and feedback, meetings over Zoom to identify the vision of the contributors and come up with a practical revision plan proved to be helpful. This was definitely a lot of work trying to coordinate schedules around time zones, especially when the contributors were from three continents. However, real time meetings was definitely one of the most effective ways to understand the approaches and expertise that the contributors brought to the project and steer the direction of the work according to their vision.
One of the lessons that I learned during the process and the editorial meetings with the contributors was the importance of honouring the implicit ways in which water pedagogy took shape in their work. Such ways might not be immediately “legible” in the North American Academy, where the writing convention is often to make things more explicit. But as editors, we need to become more comfortable with the practice of not making things apparent. In other words, the readers need to do the labour of following along with the work rather than always expecting the writer to define the stakes of the work. Even when public-facing, there needs to be a point where the writer and the reader can meet, and our work as editors is to make that meeting smooth and enriching for both. Perhaps, there needs to be a larger conversation about how we go about training editors for public-facing writing avenues. We need a space where public facing writers, editors and readers can come together to discuss best practices. I hope that my reflection sparks off conversations about editorial practices, training, and workshops for editors of public-facing environmental writing venues.
I hope that the series is helpful to you and your students not only as a practical resource but also as primary texts themselves that can generate meaningful conversations about water and its many forms. Finally, I would like to thank Dr. Andrew Watson for his immense support and patience with me during the process. I am grateful to Blake Butler for showing his confidence in the project and to my colleagues at the NICHE New scholars committee for their trust, faith, and encouragement. We truly could not have done it without your presence.
1. The Ramsar convention is an international treaty between countries to protect, preserve and sustain wetlands. The East Kolkata Wetlands has been declared as one of the Ramsar sites in the world.
2. Caretta, M.A., A. Mukherji, M. Arfanuzzaman, R.A. Betts, A. Gelfan, Y. Hirabayashi, T.K. Lissner, J. Liu, E. Lopez Gunn, R. Morgan, S. Mwanga, and S. Supratid, 2022: Water. In: Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [H.-O. Pörtner, D.C. Roberts, M. Tignor, E.S. Poloczanska, K. Mintenbeck, A. Alegría, M. Craig, S. Langsdorf, S. Löschke, V. Möller, A. Okem, B. Rama (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK and New York, NY, USA, pp. 551–712, doi:10.1017/9781009325844.006.
3. For more on this, see Iheka, Cajetan ed. Teaching Postcolonial Environmental Literature and Media. New York: Modern Language Association, 2022. Options for Teaching Series, and Siperstein, Stephen et al. ed. Teaching Climate Change in the Humanities. London: Taylor and Francis Pvt. Ltd, 2017. Print
4. I have written “Reading Climate Justice Through the Indian Farmers Movement” for Edge Effects. See here: https://edgeeffects.net/trolley-times-india-farmers-protests/ and “Teaching Information Literacy in a class on Global Environmental Justice” for ARCADIANA. See here: https://arcadiana.easlce.eu/2021/01/21/teaching-information-literacy-in-a-class-on-global-environmental-justice/ . In my role as an editor of this series, I have tried to bring what I have learned as a writer while writing for these publications, which have been positive.
Feature image: Illustration of protection of embankments by community members during a storm, Sundarbans. Delta Lives Exhibit 2022. Media: Thread on canvas cloth. Weaving Artist: Mamata Mondal. Photography by Barnamala Roy.
Latest posts by Sritama Chatterjee (see all)
- Water Pedagogies for Just Climate Futures: Editorial Reflections - October 11, 2022
- Call for Papers: Water Pedagogies: From the Academy and Beyond - February 7, 2022
- Liquid Geographies, Uneven Worlds: How Do We Talk About Placing Water? - January 28, 2020